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In the eye of the beholder

In the eye of the beholder

A view into a pupil dilating: Loyola students this summer are researching how this eye movement could be an indication of Parkinson's disease.

Sophomore Valentine Geze spent a big part of her summer staring into someone’s eyes: Geze literally examined videos of pupils, specifically tracking how pupil dilation can be a biomarker of Parkinson’s disease. When Geze started the project, she was the only first year participant in her small research group.  Geze, a biomedical engineering major, explains their research and talks about the possible impact of their work.

Tell me about this research project you worked on this summer.

Our research is related to Parkinson’s disease biomarkers. Our group worked under the advisement of Mark Albert, assistant professor of computer science; Bruce Gaynes, clinical associate professor of ophthalmology; and Ting Xiao, instructor. We were coding a program that can take a video of someone’s pupil dilating and identify the rate at which it changes. The program would then create an easy-to-read graph for doctors to see whether a person is likely to have Parkinson’s. The ultimate goal here is early detection.  

Why is pupil dilation a biomarker?

A biomarker is a trait that indicates whether someone is likely to have a condition or disease. It’s not a sole indicator or 100 percent reliable. If someone’s pupil dilates there could be other reasons. Pupil dilation is a biomarker for Alzheimer's disease as well. Basically, it’s something that your body does that can lead a doctor to think that you have this disease and that doctor may want to run more tests.

How did this research start?

Julia Adamski, Nikola Grjakovik, and Ting Xiao, PhD, are the original researchers who started the project last summer. They created the code and are wanted to make a user interface that was easy for doctors. So this summer myself, Ethan Davidson, and Jae Kim, who are both going into their senior year at Loyola, worked on the backend of it by taking the video frame by frame to measure the radius. We just automated the videos so one person doesn’t have to spend all their time trying to break it into frames.

What impact will your research have on everyday people?

Hopefully this can be implemented nationwide to multiple hospitals to make it a common program. So if someone thinks Parkinson’s runs in their family, they could easily take this test at a young age and have preventive treatment. This would help in making symptoms better in the long-term outlook.

What are plans for the research going forward?

Jae and Ethan will continue working on this in the fall along with some of the other researchers and faculty. They’ll be working out any bugs, making it faster and much more efficient. I won’t have time the time to dedicate myself solely to the project, but I will help out when I can.

How has this experience at Loyola shape you as a person?

I definitely learned a lot. We were coding in a language I had never done before--Python. I had some background in coding, but I really I learned so much from everyone I worked with. That was really exciting for me with my major to learn more about medical technology which a big part of my major biomedical engineering. I was able to see how much potential is within this field and how much is growing out of this field.